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'An Inspector Calls' has been described as 'a play with a message'. What is the message of the play? How effectively does J.B. Priestley convey his message?

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Introduction

'An Inspector Calls' has been described as 'a play with a message'. What is the message of the play? How effectively does J.B. Priestley convey his message? An Inspector Calls, by J.B. Priestly, is the story of the visit by an Inspector to an apparently normal family, the Birlings. They are celebrating Sheila Birling's engagement to Gerald Croft, who is also present, when the Inspector arrives telling them of the suicide of a young girl called Eva Smith. At first they deny any knowledge of the girl, but as the play goes on the Inspector manages to show that they all helped kill her. Mr Birling had her dismissed from his factory for demanding a small increase in wages; Sheila ordered her to be dismissed from her job in a shop simply because of her pride; Gerald Croft kept her as his mistress before leaving her suddenly; Eric Birling (Mr & Mrs Birling's son) also had an affair with the girl and stole money to keep her living; and Mrs Birling used her influence to deny help to Eva Smith when she needed it most, driving her to suicide. Priestley's message seems to be that there is hope for the future. On seeing how they have affected Eva Smith, both Sheila and Eric act sorrowfully. The character of Sheila is fairly caring at the beginning of the play, but as events unravels, and Sheila realises her guilt, her character develops from a fairly immature young girlish character to a more mature, understanding character. This change is so dramatic that to compare the Sheila who at the end of the play has taken to heart the Inspectors lessons with the Sheila who had a young girl fired from her job because of her own personal fear and who acted so differently earlier, you would think they were different people. ...read more.

Middle

The characters each react differently to the news and to the degree of responsibility which they should bear. Mr. Birling was the first person who we were led to believe started off the train of events that ultimately led to the death of Eva Smith. . At first when the inspector had asked him about Eva he couldn't remember her until the inspector showed him a photograph of her. He then remembered her and explained about his involvement. Eva had been involved in a dispute over low wages and because she had been one of the ring leaders in the strike, he had dismissed her. When told of the consequences of his actions, that Eva was out of work for two months and desperate for money, Arthur Birling showed no remorse. He explained that: "The girl had been causing trouble in the works. I was quite justified." After being sacked from Birling�s Eva was out of work for two months but then she got a job as a sales assistant in a clothes shop. It was here where Sheila's involvement took place. She had been a valued customer at Milwards and used this to her advantage to get Eva dismissed. Sheila had complained about Eva for laughing at her when she tried on a dress. What had perhaps annoyed her even more was that Eva looked better in the dress than she did. Eva was very pretty and Sheila was jealous of her and because of this she "couldn't be sorry for her". Unlike her father Sheila felt extremely guilty for having Eva dismissed. As she says "I felt rotten about it at the time and now I feel a whole lot worse". ...read more.

Conclusion

Before leaving the Inspector explicitly convey the message of the play by saying the fact that if you do not learn your lesson the first time, you will be taught it again and again. He shows that you can't run from your conscience, as the Birlings have find out. Priestley uses the dramatic twist of the Inspector returning at the end of the play to emphasis this point, and makes it more effective by placing it just as the characters are beginning to relax. He shows the consciences of both the characters and the audience. After the inspector leaves, Priestly keeps the message of responsibility alive in the minds of the audience by reminding them of what they have done and to make sure it does not happen again. He tells them that every human on earth is responsible for each other's action. The same as them being responsible for Eva Smith's death. The aims of Priestley when he wrote this play, I believe, was to make us think, to make us question our own characters and beliefs. He wasted to show us that we can change, and we can decide which views we side with. He wanted us to ask ourselves if we wanted to be a Sheila or a Sybil, an Eric or an Arthur. Or, were we in-between like Gerald. Priestley wanted the audience to learn from the mistakes of the Birlings. I think that Priestley wanted to make a difference; not a world changing difference, but a small difference in the way people think. Then, if you think of every person who coming out of the play gave some money to a beggar in the street, you would see that Priestley did make a difference. It would have changed people's views on society, however small those changes would be, and so Priestley achieved his aims in writing the play. ...read more.

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